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Chicken paddock + annual garden

 
dan long
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Paul is a big advocate of chicken paddocks and I am incline to agree with his reasoning. I had the idea that an annual garden could follow behind the chickens to not only stack two functions in one space but also enjoy the pest control, perennial weed control and fertilization that chickens would provide. I then realized that while we are stacking functions, chicken feed can be planted in front of the chickens. Chickens follow cover crop/chicken feed, cover crop/chicken feed follows people food and people food follows chickens (diagram a). The paddock is rotated every 2 months so that 1) the chickens have access to the entire area over a growing season and 2) even the longest growing vegetables are able to finish growing before the chickens move in (the cover crops can be relay-seeded for crops like tomatoes that may be in the ground for longer than 4 months).

Simple in theory, but the details get complicated. I came up with a list of problems and solutions to them:

The paddock rotates too fast for long-growing crops to mature and for potential pathogens in chicken poop to die: the ones that take the longest are planted in the most recently vacated paddock. This way they have up to 4 months to mature and pathogens have up to 4 months to die off. Fast maturing crops can be planted in the least recently vacated paddock.

The chicken food/cover crop is either inadequate to feed the flock (necessitating external feed input) or is more than addequate (becoming weedy): I have access to lots of cardboard and organinc materials. I will smother everything with cardboard hot-composted compost that will have killed off seeds. combined with the fact that each newly-vacated paddock will have been subjected to chickens for 5 2-month cycles means that weeding chores should be minimal.

Access to chicken coop: The chicken coop will be in the "trees" section. This is also where the chickens will overwinter. I will keep all the unfinished compost in here as well so that the chickens can forage for bugs over the winter. I am hoping that this will replace the need for chicken feed over the winter months. The reason there are 8 paddocks, 2 being dedicated to vegtables and 1 to cover crops is so that there is always at least one chicken occupied paddock that can provide access to and from the coop.

Those of you with more experience than I, are there any other problems I am overlooking?

For those of you who want to know: I am in PNW Washington with heavy clay soil.



 
Francis Oublieux
Posts: 34
Location: Great Bend, Kansas (border on zone 5/6, 20"-25" yr)
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Hi Dan.

I think this basic post/article might give you some idea of what your idea looks like in practice. http://catalystcoop.com/2013/09/16/rotational-paddocks-and-chicken-tractor-madness/

There are many more details than the post provides, but it gives a solid basis for the thought of permanent paddocks in a "wagon wheel" paddock setup.

Here, the chickens are only allowed free range in the 'people garden' through fall and winter to eat up the bugs. Through the summer they get tractor time along the paths, but are generally in there own chicken garden paddocks. I am still feeding bag food, but less and less as things mature.

Hope it helps.
 
dan long
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It is amazing to see someone doing this in practice as opposd to armchair theory!

Could your system possibly be improved? I'm thinking less labor hauling that chicken tractor around. What would prevent you from planting your vegtables in the recently vacated paddocks and doing away with the tractor all together? This way the chickens are in their own paddock and the vegtables in theirs. Could this also possibly allow for you raise more chickens?

What do you think? You, as opposed to me, have seen a chicken paddock with your own two eyes. I am just fantasising about it.
 
Francis Oublieux
Posts: 34
Location: Great Bend, Kansas (border on zone 5/6, 20"-25" yr)
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Well Dan, everything can be improved. But I can't think of anything right now? Keep in mind that your layout will be different, as we like to say in the Permies world, it depends.

The hens might spend two hours a week in the tractor through summer here; again, this is just to trim the paths between my wondering polycultured beds. This translates into ten minutes of work a week for me, and nearly eliminates my need to mow in that area, thus function stacking. Chicken tractoring for me is a "stay out of the gardens while doing a job for me" kind of a thing, and they also love the field trips it gives them. Others try to sustain their birds in a tractor, not a healthy idea... I also use the tractor for slaughter time.

So my human gardens are already separate. The 7 chicken paddocks sit on approximately 1/10 of an acre, and my gardens sit on about 1/6 of acre. All spring/summer the hens get bounced from one paddock to another, all fall/winter the paddocks rest while the hens free range the human gardens. So I already do what you are saying by separating the chicken action from the home grow beds.

I just had a clutch of six chicks, these chicks will partially replace the hens I will slaughter this fall. I am personally trying to get to the point where I barely feed the chickens from the store, so that means I must keep my flock the size that the land can sustain. In addition, all food from Catalyst Coop is given away for free, thus more birds does not make sense for me at all. It would require more bag feed, cause too much harm to the land, and then give away lesser quality food.

This is a great system, I assure you. These hens are happy as all get out and this will get even better as things mature in the chicken paddocks. They know they are safe here, and that shows in many ways. Not to mention the ease of use of this system; which, will get even easier as I install automatic doors.

There is video of the paddocks at catalystcoop.com, as well as a smash up video showing progress of the site; none of it is good video.

If you have any money at all, your system will shine. Mine is built from a dumpster on less than poverty level income.

Enjoy,

 
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